February 21, 2018 Special Dispatch No. 7348

Toronto Lecture By British-Iraqi Shiite Scholar Sayed Ammar Nakshawani: Criticism Of Islam Is Legitimate, Does Not Constitute Islamophobia

February 21, 2018
Iraq | Special Dispatch No. 7348

Dr. Sayed Ammar Nakshawani, speaking at the Afghan Canadian Islamic Community (ACIC) in Toronto, said that Muslims tend to view every criticism of Islam as Islamophobia and called for true dialogue about the issues. Talking about the prohibition of homosexuality in Islam, Dr. Nakshawani, a British-Iraqi Islamic historian, lecturer, and author, who now serves as the Imam Ali Chair of Shia studies at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, said that a non-Muslim has every right to question why we have such beliefs, as long as it is done in a respectful manner. "If I live in Canada," he said, "every Canadian has a right to object or to question some of my beliefs as a Muslim. That is not Islamophobia. That is critical thinking." Criticizing Islam because of the Quranic verse that calls to "kill disbelievers wherever you see them" was legitimate, he said, as long as it is in the context of a meaning and respectful debate. Similarly, objections to the niqab are not Islamophobic, said Dr. Nakshawani, pointing out that wearing it was not obligatory in Islam and calling to have some respect for the laws of the country.

Dr. Nakshawani criticized Muslims who take advantage of the social system, scamming the government for disability pensions or unemployment benefits. Such conduct, he said, promotes Islamophobia, adding that: "The Emir of the Believers would be proud of countries like [Canada]." Dr. Nakshawani went on to talk about Wahhabi Salafis, calling them "the most disgusting Muslims you'll find" – "living in government [housing] and preaching that the government is Satan." Dr. Nakshawani criticized the media outlets for their role in propagating the negative image of Muslims because this is the image that "sells." Of course you will have terrorist attacks, he said, because you are playing a narrative that causes this. "When you look at who represents Islam on some of these media outlets, all of them look like [they are] from the cast of 'The Pirates of the Caribbean'... and can barely speak English." The lecture, which was part of a series, was posted on the ACIC YouTube channel on September 30, 2017.

To view the clip of Dr. Sayed Ammar Nakshawani on MEMRI TV, click here or below.

"If I Live In Canada, I Live In This Country, Every Canadian Has A Right To Object Or To Question Some Of My Beliefs As A Muslim"

"If I live in America, or I live in London, if someone is a citizen of the country, American or British, or I live in Canada, if they have an objection against my religion, is that Islamophobic or not? And that citizen of Toronto is what? That citizen of Toronto is objecting to my religion being in the country. Is that Islamophobia or not? I don't think it's Islamophobia. What do we mean? If someone is objecting to my religion, by saying there are certain things in my religion that do not accord with the values of Canada, is that Islamophobia? No. Why should it be? Someone says, 'What do you mean?' If a Canadian person today turned around and said, 'I have a problem with Islam.' Is that Islamophobia? No, not at all. If they say that 'I have a problem with Islam because of the following reasons,' bring out your reasons. Let's discuss the reasons. Which reasons, for example? Someone says that 'I object to the religion of Islam.' That's not an Islamophobic comment. 'I object because you people do not allow homosexuality,' someone says this in Canada today. 'That I object to your religion, because your religion does not accept homosexuality. If now there is gay marriage, your religion does not accept this. Therefore, I object to your religion. I want to speak out.' Is that Islamophobic? It's not. That person has every right to question why we have certain beliefs.

"But if it's done in a respectful manner, there's no issue whatsoever. Now if someone comes to me and says to me, 'I have objections against Muslims in Canada.' I say 'what?' 'I've got an objection against your religion.' What's the objection? Says 'homosexuality.' I say 'do you want my opinion on homosexuality in Canada? I'll give you my opinion.' There's a legal opinion and there's an ethical opinion. Legally, I agree with the Jewish religion that homosexuality is prohibited. In the same way Judaism says homosexuality is prohibited, I likewise say legally it's prohibited. But ethically, I will never show hate to someone because of their sexual orientation. If I live in Canada, I live in this country, every Canadian has a right to object or to question some of my beliefs as a Muslim. That's not Islamophobia. That is critical thinking. That's trying to understand each other. Some Muslims turn around today and say, 'You know what, they don't like us because we don't believe in this.' No, they've got every right. They don't know sometimes what our beliefs are.


"I will never show hate to a human being, because of their sexual orientation. Never. That's none of my business. A human being, living in this country, they've chosen a particular sexual orientation. I may differ according to theology, but ethically I will not show disrespect to that person because they are as much a citizen of this country as I am. And they have every right to practice in this country, what the country endorses. That's number one. Someone turns around and says, 'I have another objection against your religion in this country.' That's not Islamophobia, that's okay. Don't worry. What's the objection? 'Your Qur'an.' Which part of my Qur'an? 'Your Qur'an says, "Kill disbelievers wherever you see them"' He's right. She's right. That's not Islamophobic. That's not hate. It's true, the Qur'an in Chapter 9, Verse 5 says, 'Kill the disbelievers wherever you see them. Kill the disbelievers wherever you see them.' Someone in Canada raises an objection: 'Why is this Qur'an in our bookshelves in Canada? This Qur'an teaches people to go out and to kill disbelievers wherever you see them. When they raise this objection, if the objection is raised without an insult, without mockery, without disrespect... It's like me, if I see something in the Bible, I can either raise an objection against it with respect or with disrespect.


"If someone comes to me now, and says to me that 'I don't want Islam in Canada.' I reply to them by saying, 'Why? What's wrong? You have an Islamophobic element?' 'No, I'm not Islamophobic, but your religion, explain to me, how can a religion be in the 21st century in Canada, which says kill the disbelievers wherever you see them.' I, as a Muslim, should be on the roundtable of discussion and reply.


"What's the context? The context is: number one, the treaty is broken. Number two, those who have not broken the treaty should not be killed. Number three, those who not feel that what happened was right, then they deserve to be given security. Number four, those who've broken the treaty, if they ask for forgiveness, then forgive them, yes."


"There Are Certain Things We've Done That Have Led To Islamophobia – Don't Think That Islamophobia Just Pops Up"

"Someone in Canada says 'but this hijab that your women wear. This niqab, they cover their faces. Canada does not need burqa.' What do they call it? The burqa, yes. They say it doesn't need a burqa. Your women, and you see in Toronto, or you see in Montreal, or you see in Ottawa, that there are areas where Muslims are walking around, and they wear the burqa. You tell them for example, that this is not obligatory. A Muslim woman, it's not obligatory on her to cover her face. Sometimes I cannot but help turn around and say to the Canadian that, 'I don't blame you for being Islamophobic, when the Muslim wants to impose everything onto you.' We have been told in Islam, covering the face is not obligatory for the woman. Someone might mention special legal conditions which I don't need to go into tonight. But Islam says to us, the woman does not need to cover her face. Why do you insist on covering your face in Canada? Someone says, well, you know what, that's my piety. Okay, it's your piety, but when it comes to the passport, how are we gonna do this? How are we gonna do this? When it comes to the passport, or even not a passport, even something as trivial as exams. You want to go to an exam. Some people will cheat in every way possible whatsoever, with notes under this, that...

"And I see a few of you over here laughing from the guy's side, I hope none of you have entered an exam like that. But, you found that this niqab is not obligatory. You find some Muslims insisting 'I will walk down the street in my niqab.' The government is saying, 'Excuse me, this covering of your face, this does not fit with our laws. You want to go to Saudi Arabia, you're more than welcome. You want to go to other countries which allow this, you're more than welcome.' You find that if someone comes to object about the niqab, is that person Islamophobic? No, they're not. They have every right to accept or every right to reject this niqab. Why am I imposing myself on them? Why? When you live in a land, you don't know how much blessing we have living in countries like this. You could come to Al-Majlis Al-Hussaini [a Shi'ite religious gathering] at 10:30 in the night, 12:30 in the night, 2:00 am in the morning, in comfort and peace. The government has no problem. And then you find our people turning around and insisting, that I want to cover my face. The government says to you, 'We're not gonna force you to take it off, but have some respect for our laws. We don't want to come and attack your religion.' Because some Muslims, what are they doing now? Mischievously, when the government says one thing, they blow it out of proportion and say, 'Look they hate Islam.' They don't hate Islam. It's you who are causing havoc in their country, you by imposing this way. And that's why you found the question arises, that are there certain things that the Muslims have done that we should be ashamed of? That have led to Islamophobia? By Allah, there is.

"There are certain things we've done that have led to Islamophobia. Don't think that Islamophobia just pops up. There are certain behaviors of ours that are the problem. Let me give you one example. The classic Muslim who has stolen from the benefits of the government, yes, comes to the council, the local council: 'I'm disabled. My back is broken.' Every Iraqi has a broken back. I guarantee you. Every Iraqi in the world has a slipped disk. If you meet any Iraqi father, he says, 'I have a slipped disk.' That Muslim comes to the government, when the Muslim comes to the government, 'Can you give me? I'm disabled.' Three days later, he's jumping for a football like you've never seen anyone jump. I thought you're disabled. 'Habibi, they stole our money in Iraq, I'm stealing their money back.' Sorry, since when did you represent my religion? Who are you? Remind me of your name so I remember what position you held in this religion. Some people, you found, what do they do? From the government, the government says if you are disabled, truthfully, we'll give you a certain allowance. This is the government of the Emir of the Faithful in these countries. In these countries, is the government of the Emir of the Faithful, and someone can take me to task for that, you can take me wherever you want. The Emir of the Faithful would be proud of countries like this. Why? Because someone who is disabled, in Iraq, in Middle East, we see someone who is disabled, we use them as a tool to laugh at in the wedding. There was a dwarf, honestly, there was a dwarf, in Najaf. Every wedding they used to throw him on the table to dance. In this country, when they see someone and they see that that person is what, they see that person is disabled, they say to you, 'Look there is a certain allowance.' That person, 'thank you.' The person who is disabled, he takes it. Five days later swimming laps; six days later throwing the hoop; ten days later running around for the bus when he misses. Why are you lying? Do you know what happens when the non-Muslim sees what you do to the image of Islam? That person has hate. That person says, 'I welcomed these people to my country.'

"Then you've got a second category of person. What does he do? The second category of person comes to you and says, 'Can I have an allowance?' 'Why?' 'I have no job. So I need job seekers' allowance. Give me job seekers' allowance.' He owns 15 supermarkets. How many? Fifteen. But I have no job. Why you have no job? You know it's hard to go out and work. So that supermarket, that supermarket, that supermarket. In Britain they found six of the 10 that scam the most from the welfare checks of the government, their names were Islamic names. You had your Muhammads, you had your Jafars, you had your Othmans, you had your this your that. Imagine, you're named after Jafar Al-Sadiq, you behave like this. You're named after the Holy Prophet, you behave like this. You found that firstly you got the issue of us stealing from the welfare checks. Secondly, in Britain what do you have? You also have secondly in Britain, the issue recently of sex gangs. They pick up young girls from poor places in Britain. English white girls, and they sell them off to sex gangs. They prostitute the girls, white girls. Later when the British found this out, the British were in uproar. Why? Because you look at the names, you think you have a war at [the battle of] Uhud. You look at each of the names on there, it's all names of Companions. Muslim after Muslim goes there as a refugee, begging for asylum in a non-Muslim country. You and your country are being disrespected, you and your country can't stand in a line without having to bribe. And you come to a country of decency, and you come and do this to the girls of that country. Fourteen-year-olds, 12-year-olds, put into prostitution by Muslims in the north of England. By Allah, Islamophobia will be there. Number three, I can't blame there for being Islamophobia. Why? Because sometimes you look at those who claim to represent Islam and they're the most disgusting Muslims you will ever find, yes."

"You Look At These Wahhabi Salafis That We Have... Getting Money From The Government – Living In A Government House, Preaching That The Government Is Shaytan [Satan]"

"You look at these Wahhabi Salafis that we have. Wahhabi Salafi, in their mosques in the West, he's getting money from the government. Living in a government house, preaching that the government is Shaytan [Satan]. Why don't you go into your cave? Go to your cave. Who took you out of the cave? Or go to your Saudi [Arabia] which you love so much. Go and live there, especially the non-Saudi Wahhabi. Let's see how the Saudi looks after you. In the Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia and others, you have to beg to become a citizen. And they'll never give it to you. Bahrain only recently started giving citizenship, because the demographic was to be played with. Otherwise where, Saudi Arabia is going to give you citizenship? You can dream. Emirates, Dubai will give you, for example, they'll give you citizenship. They don't even look at you as a human being if you're of a different color. Kuwait will give you citizenship, if you're not born after a certain year, you have no chance whatsoever. And they don't mind calling you someone without, someone without citizenship. You find that these Wahhabis and Salafis have destroyed their image of our name. Sometimes I don't disagree that those who make Islamophobic comments in politics, I don't disagree. Many of them are what? Many of them generalize, and that hurts us. I know that many of them have a problem with Wahhabism and Salafism, but I have the same problem as you have. The same problem that you have with Wahhabism and Salafism, I have. The same people are being killed by the Wahhabi Salafi bomb blasts, we have people who are being killed by Wahhabi and Salafi bomb blasts. But to generalize all of us is not fair. However, is it just the fault of the Muslims? No. Islamophobia, also as I said, sometimes the media outlets are also the cause of Islamophobia. 

"Why? When you come to a discussion on Islam, you find who comes to represent Islam. I once said it in a discussion before, I said when you look at who represents Islam on some of these media outlets, all of them look like from the cast of 'Pirates of the Caribbean.' By Allah! You get the atheist guy, trim, lovely, wearing a Dior suit, and Louboutin, and he is coming looking sparkling with a [Rolex] Daytona, so on, looking the part. The Muslim looks like he's just come out of warfare and can just about speak the language. I ask the media, 'Why you pick this guy? Is it because it sells? There aren't any of us who are able to speak eloquently about Islam? Why don't you call us to come and speak? Why is it that when it's the atheist coming to speak, you bring the most polished graduate from a Harvard or a Princeton. But when it comes to the Muslim, you think the guy has never spoken English in their life.' Even I don't understand their Arabic, let alone their English. Their Arabic I don't understand, and now you put them in the media. Of course you're going to have the bomb blasts. Why? Because the narrative you are playing was a narrative that was causing this. I lived in London for how many years? Every time they wanted to bring someone to speak about Islam, they used to bring Anjem Choudary. You remember Anjem Choudary? They bring Anjem Choudary: 'Fight the West, kill the kaffir, kill the disbeliever, keep your woman at home.' Lovely, mirroring, and the image of what is your stereotypical Muslim, you sell it. You sell it.

"When Manchester or Westminster happened, many of them said, 'Look at Islam.' But what you bought about Islam on TV, how could you complain? You could have bought an Islam that may not sell, but an Islam that would be a good Islam. An Islam that would be the real Islam. But sadly, in the media, you go and the people who come on the TV, representing the religion, one's got a hook, the other's blindfolded, the other can just about speak the language. That person, when they represent Islam, naturally your average hillbilly sitting in their house, watching the television, will look and say, 'These Muslims are all crazy. All of them are nutcases. Look at this guy, he looks like he's Johnny Depp.' You look at him, you think the guy looks nuts. Why is it you don't bring the eloquent people? Why don't you bring the people? And mind you, sometimes it's our own fault, not just theirs. Why? When our mosques are asked, 'Who should you put on TV?' 'Maulana [our imam].' 'Maulana speaks English or no? Speaks English or no, Maulana?' 'No.' 'So why are you putting him on TV?' 'Cause he's Maulana.' 'Oh, there's no one else to speak?' 'No, no, he's Maulana.' Habibi, I don't deny he's Maulana, but he is going to face a guy who speaks at 25 miles per hour. You're going to put him – who in his normal majlis [i.e. informal gathering] I can't stay awake for – and now you're going to put him on TV. Sometimes our people are not media savvy.

"You want to remove Islamophobia from a place, the first thing you need to do is be savvy in the media. Know who to put on. Know which image to put on. Put someone who looks smart, someone who looks sharp, someone who has the wit and the charisma and the knowledge to be on the media. Instead when they phone our mosques, 'Al-Salam alaykum, can we have someone?' 'Yes, we'll send Maulana.' Poor Maulana himself just about learned how to speak English for his passport examination, and now you want to put him on the television. And if you go to the media now, go on YouTube, see some of the ones who have represented Islam, you'll find that the guy can just about speak the language, they put him forth.

"Question arose, the Holy Prophet, when that Islamophobia began to hurt him, what were the lessons he gave us that we should instill today? The first one, get involved in politics. That's the only way you'll remove Islamophobia. All of you here have a responsibility to be involved in politics. This country has representatives who are Muslims, representatives who are Sikh, representatives who are Hindus, representatives of all backgrounds. This country does not discriminate. Enough. We've produced a billion doctors, how many more we are going to produce? Doctors we produce, dentists we produce, accountants we produce, finance we produce. Now is the time for people in politics. Run for mayor, run for congress. The Holy Prophet never once in his life did he turn around and say, 'Don't enter politics.' On the contrary."

Share this Report:

Help Fight Extremism - Support MEMRI

MEMRI is a 501(c)3 organization. All donations are tax-deductible and kept strictly confidential.